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Central Asia - Bishkek

sunny 10 °C
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After 12 days of continual travelling we were finally basing ourselves somewhere, and after a lovely lie in I awoke in the mid morning and got myself ready for a light day exploring the capital of Kyrgyzstan - Bishkek.

Shortly before starting my job back in 2014 I had planned a quick holiday, having looked at cheap last minute flights. Eventually opting for Gibraltar, at one stage Bishkek and Almaty were serious contenders.

Nevertheless I eventually made it here, and after leaving the hostel I quickly bumped into my travel family - first Daniel, and then Jim and Christine. After having a catch up and getting the tips for exploring the city, I then made my way to the main street, where the majority of the city's sights are located.

Philharmonic Hall

Philharmonic Hall

Underestimating the daytime temperatures due to the coldness of the previous night I quickly removed my winter anorak and waked around in a small jacket, starting at the Philharmonic and City Halls before heading east along Chuy Prospekti towards Ala Too Square.

City Hall

City Hall


Parliament

Parliament

Passing the Parliament, as well as revolutionary statues I arrived at a large flagpole overlooking the Stalinist buildings of Ala Too Square.

Flag at the State History Museum

Flag at the State History Museum

Walking behind the State History Museum, I then saw the statue of Lenin - another removed from it's original position, before walking through Oak Park, towards the Tsum Centre which I had already researched as the best place to by tatty souvenirs.

Obtaining Yurt Magnets and a naff T-Shirt I then headed back down to the entrance where I grabbed a burger before heading back towards the hotel for a chill.

After walking back past the sights and stopping off to grab some cash and snacks from the supermarket I arrived back at the hostel just as Ian was just leaving. As I told him about the souvenirs I had bought, he was devastated to find out that he missed out on buying the same tat, as he didn't go to the top floor of the Tsum. Impressed by the souvenir T-shirt emblazoned with the Kyrgyz flag and "Кыргызстан", he went off back to the Tsum to buy his own "Kick The Bitch" T-Shirt for all his family.

After a nice afternoon rest I then joined the group for dinner at a local restaurant in the evening for what would be Daniel's last meal with us. With a large number of the group missing us by meeting downstairs an hour later, the seven of us who had heard correctly eventually made it to the restaurant, having originally headed the wrong way through the city. Despite us tourists being totally out of place with our dirty T-shirts and trainers, we were welcomed into the posh-yet-cheap restaurant.

Ala Too by night

Ala Too by night

After a second night of downing shots, we then headed back towards the hostel past the night-lit city sights, and left half of the group to go off for drinks in a local bar.

As the Turkmens had helpfully provided us with everyone's personal details, we told Daniel we'd stay in contact as we had his name and DOB, and with that we said our goodbyes - with me now heading for bed before tomorrow's hike in the mountains.

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Kyrgyzstan Tagged city parliament centralasia Comments (0)

Delightful Dushanbe

Central Asia - Dushanbe

semi-overcast 20 °C
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Waking up on Sunday morning - we had our last breakfast in Uzbekistan, before boarding our coach to take us to the Tajik border.

Whilst the exit from Turkmenistan and entry into Uzbekistan had been bad enough - with checks for carpets and drugs, it was the exit from Uzbekistan that would be the worst border experience on the trip.

Upon arrival we were given customs forms in which we were told to simplify our currency exports to just USD and EUR. However what they were really after was anything they could fine you for - pornography, photos of the border, drugs etc.

Quickly deleting anything that may cause a problem, I then had to pass over my phone and camera whilst the officials inspected all photos, whilst I put my bags through a scanner. Luckily I did not have a laptop with me - as those who did were subjected to an even longer experience, having "sex" and "porn" searched through their files.

I was then quizzed on what the contents of my baggage was, before having to show them all my drugs. Going back to the desk I still had to wait whilst my photos were inspected. I was then told to have another temperature test before being able to wait in a painfully slow queue to hand in my passport for the immigration check.

Eventually I was able to leave Uzbekistan and walk towards Tajikistan - or so I thought, as right at the final exit point I was required to hand over my phone again for the border guard to check my photos, on which he proceeded to quiz me over this year's holiday snaps, whilst looking for photos of naked women.

3D Tajik Map

3D Tajik Map

Upon arrival into Tajikistan, the process was far simpler, although there was little signage and many empty buildings, I did eventually find the right way, where they quickly stamped my passport, jotted down my name and details and let me through. Of the two hour process, perhaps 5% of it was actually spent on the Tajik side....leaving a rather sour taste in the mouth for what had been an enjoyable trip to Uzbekistan. According to our guide, it was worse treatment than you receive leaving North Korea!

Wedding in Hisor

Wedding in Hisor

Nevertheless we continued our travel and en route to the Tajik capital, we stopped off at Hisor to view the castle, as well as gain an insight into the make-up of the country, as well as witnessing local wedding celebrations.

Dushanbe

Dushanbe

We then finally headed to the beautiful Dushanbe, the city surrounded by mountains, and covered in photos of the president.

One of the many presidential posters

One of the many presidential posters


Parliament

Parliament

We began opposite the parliament building, before entering the Rudaki Park, viewing the surrounding monuments and buildings like the Independence monument, Palace of the Nation and Flag Pole.

Rudaki Park

Rudaki Park

We then went to our hotel - the 5* Dushanbe Sheraton, treating ourselves to a bit of luxury after the stressful morning.

5*

5*

After a quick swim at the hotel pool, some of us then headed out to the restaurant, where we had our own private room - complete with, you guessed it, kebab meat, bread and soup.

Private Meal

Private Meal

After the busy stressful day, we then headed back to the hotel for a well earned rest in our luxurious rooms before tomorrow's long drive to the Fergana Valley.

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Tajikistan Tagged mountains wedding city parliament border centralasia Comments (0)

Parliaments and glittery niqabs

Iceland - Reykjavik

overcast 12 °C
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After two early starts and a very busy day previously, it was finally time for a lie in and a more relaxed day.

Harpa

Harpa

Despite staying in the capital for two days already, we were only just making our way into the city centre to take a look around. Starting on Laugavegur - the main shopping street, we made our way along to the harbour, visiting the Harpa concert hall and the flee market, before heading into the old city centre.

Parliament

Parliament

Buying some souvenirs we then arrived at the Parliament, a very small town hall sized building, lost amongst the taller surrounding buildings, before heading back towards Laugavegur and Hallgrim's Cathedral.

Hallgrímskirkja

Hallgrímskirkja

The cathedral is situated behind a statue of Leif Erikson, the first man to make it to the Americas, and was finished less than thirty years ago. A tower inside gives great views of the city, and after taking a look around we walked back to the car paying a nominal amount for our car parking and having lunch back at the apartment.

Leif Erikson Statue

Leif Erikson Statue

Having a little rest we then headed back into the car and out of the city to the Þingvellir National Park, for a walk around the rift valley where the original parliament was located in the 10th century. Heading back to the apartment for dinner we then went out again to the city for a few drinks. Two drinks, around two thirds of the UK size quickly added up to £18 and after breaking the bank, we headed to a pub with live music.

Þingvellir

Þingvellir

Not knowing what to expect, we were quickly bombarded by a drag act blasting out her own composition of synth in Icelandic. Thirty minutes later the next act came out in a silver glittery niqab. As she started singing, it quickly became clear that this was the same person. Saturday nights in Iceland. What a time to be alive!

Catching the last bus back we had just one day of the holiday left to go.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Iceland Tagged nature history city cathedral parliament geology Comments (0)

The Bridge

Copenhagen & Malmö

overcast 10 °C
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After a real adventure in India, my next two holidays a few months later were going to be far more relaxed - returns to cities I had been several times already. The first was Copenhagen for the third time, where I had been just eight months previously.

As my good friend Amalie had just had her baby, flights from Luton had increased to eight per day, as well as being pretty cheap, and the city is just great fun I had the urge to visit once again, and after planting the idea in some of my friends' minds, it soon spiralled into a Slough family holiday before my eyes.

In preparation for the trip I had not only reproduced maps for everyone, but recommended everyone got themselves a Caxton currency card - a thoroughly useful debit card that can be used abroad with exceptionally low fees and great exchange rates. Something particularly useful in Scandinavia where even the homeless take cards as no one uses cash! In the end, we didn't even touch the local money at all....

After answering questions like "can I take grapes?" and "will my jaw hurt?" from those who had not flown before, I raced home from work, grabbed my bits and then ran into town to catch the same bus on the way to the airport for the holiday to begin. Despite an hour's delay, we eventually took off and made our way over Northern Europe towards the Danish capital.

Family photo

Family photo

"Have we landed yet?". "No Abby, You'll know when we've landed". And then we did. Eventually making it into the city by midnight we grabbed some quick food before some sleep and our Cph day the following morning.

On the way into the city

On the way into the city

After grabbing breakfast at the hotel we began our day by heading just around the corner towards the pretty Nyhavn, before heading up to the Royal Palace and Amaliehaven.

Nyhavn

Nyhavn


The Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid

Singing "Should've Known Better", whilst keeping an eye out for Soluna Samay's sister, who could for all we know have been right next to us(!), we made our way towards the Little Mermaid (which half of them had no idea about) hidden behind half of China, taking a few photos and then heading back towards the city through the Kastellet military fort. After a mooch inside the Marble Cathedral, we then paused at the Rosenborg Palace Gardens for a photo shoot and rest before making it to the city centre where we all had a rest in a cafe.

Fun at Rosenborg

Fun at Rosenborg


Christiansborg

Christiansborg

Our final major stop on the tour of the city was at Christiansborg Palace, to go up the tower inside for free views of the city and across the Øresund of Malmö and the Bridge we would cross tomorrow.

The Bridge from Copenhagen

The Bridge from Copenhagen

Heading back down, we made our way towards the City Hall, before walking back up Strøget towards the hotel for a well earned rest after today's 5 mile walk.

Family meal

Family meal

We then grabbed dinner in the evening before heading to an Irish pub and a bar before a well earned sleep....

After a busy day in Copenhagen and check out being at 11, we decided to check out at 11, grabbing breakfast before heading off over the bridge to Sweden.

Since my last visit in the summer the refugee crisis in Europe had affected Scandinavia, not only had we witnessed far more beggars in Copenhagen than there were last time, but also there were now passport control checks on the bridge itself. This meant that we wasted an extra hour or so to get to Malmö, but nevertheless it was worth it.

Whilst in Copenhagen we all stuck together, in Malmö everyone had different plans and so I went off to visit the city alone. Being the first time in the three I had been to this part of the world that I did my own thing.

Malmö Castle

Malmö Castle

Despite this, I still undertook the same tour as the previous two times - beginning in the main square, before heading to the castle, the Turning Torso and back to the station.

Turning Torso

Turning Torso

However this time I actually wanted to visit the Malmö Museum to see the exhibition on the TV series "The Bridge" which I am an avid fan of.

Saga's car from The Bridge

Saga's car from The Bridge

Luckily for me, today the museum was also free, and I spent a solid two and a half hours in the museum watching videos and looking at exhibits from the show itself. Realising that it had now got quite late, I headed back on my tour routine before heading back to Copenhagen.

The Bridge from Malmö

The Bridge from Malmö

Whilst everyone else was spending a leisurely day in Sweden, I raced back to Denmark as I was completing the third of my three must-do tasks for the trip, meeting up with my good friend Amalie, and her new growing family. Having dinner with them, I had a great few hours catching up on good times before heading to the airport to meet up with everyone else for our flight home.

With Amalie

With Amalie

Although I usually visit places on my own, it is always a great experience to share with friends - especially ones who don't faff; and as I had already seen the cities twice before I wasn't fussed about missing out on anything anyway - all I had wanted was a new pair of glasses from Tiger, to see the exhibition and visiting my friend! I was more than happy to give everyone the guided tour of the city, and it seemed we all had a great time in Scandinavia.

I look forward to the next time! Meanwhile it was time to sleep before the next holiday in five days time.... #WhoseIdeaWasThis?

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Denmark Tagged tower bridge city friends castle parliament erasmus Comments (0)

A casual 15 mile walk...

The Indian Experience - Delhi

overcast 12 °C
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In the run up to my Indian holiday I had discovered that contrary to my knowledge, Beijing was not the most polluted city in the world - it was in fact Delhi. Great! However, after two freezing cold nights I was still looking forward to getting out of Nepal and in to Delhi where at least there would be power!

Waking up in Kathmandu and making it to the airport, unfortunately the smog in both capitals meant that my plane was delayed by several hours, and after security checks at every stage, I eventually made it on to the plane headed for India. Avoiding the under-cooked meat on the plane, I soon arrived in Delhi and was picked up to take me to the hotel.

A western toilet!

A western toilet!

When travelling I usually don't go for a particularly luxurious hotel, however as Indian prices were not the most expensive, as well as preparing myself for a bad case of diarrhoea, and thus wanting a western styled toilet, as well as a safe refuge from the dirty outside world I chose a rather nice hotel a few minutes walk from the central station, where I would need to leave early from on Friday. What I found quite early on is that nice hotels have their own door staff sitting there all day in the winter cold (again, India much like Nepal never got very warm the entire time I was there) just opening the doors for guests!

After checking in, and having already missed four hours of my planned day of sightseeing I cracked on quickly deciding to visit Old Delhi, leaving the rest of the city for the following day. Making my way across to the metro station I was instantly hit by the full force of Indian grime. Not only did I have to avoid the tuktuk drivers' insistence that they take me wherever I needed to go, but also having to avoid the constant spitting that every Indian seems compelled to do. Mix that together with the dirt, beggars and constant smell of urine and excrement you can imagine the pleasure of a gentle stroll around the Indian capital.

Red Fort

Red Fort

Eventually finding the entrance to the metro, I made my way to Chandri Chowk, and the Red Fort. However not wanting to look even more like a tourist than I did already, I first ended up going the wrong way, and thus had to end up walking back on myself in a race against time to reach the Red Fort before nightfall.

Eventually arriving, the full scale of the smoggy haze affecting the city was soon clear, as the fort could barely be seen just 100 metres away. Deciding not to explore further, as I would visit the very similarly designed fort in Agra in just two days time, I continued down the road towards the Jama Masjid, finding that the easiest and fastest way to walk is actually on the road, behind the tuktuks.

Jama Masjid

Jama Masjid

By this stage, it had already got dark that my western face was now no longer so evident, and I found to my surprise I was no longer hassled as I looked no different to a local! I then walked back through Old Delhi towards the McDonalds just up from my hotel and after a casual 5 mile walk I was done for the day. Time to get some sleep for a long busy day exploring the rest of the city tomorrow.

Connaught Place

Connaught Place

After taking breakfast in the hotel in the following morning, I then made my way out towards Connaught Place, the heart of New Delhi. Walking past the colonial buildings and a "Burger Singh", I saw the huge Indian Flag in the middle of the square, before making my way to the first attraction, the Jantar Mantar - an eighteenth century observatory.

Jantar Mantar

Jantar Mantar

Like most attractions in India (and Nepal), locals are charged a pittance (₹5, £0.05) compared to foreign tourists (₹100, £1). Although as this was still cheap compared to rates in Europe it was nothing to complain about. Especially as it became a haven from the rush and hassle of the city. After taking a detour via one of the government owned fixed-price shops to buy a Ganesh souvenir, I headed down to the Safdarjung Tomb - a Mughal tomb that being much less frequently visited, was a real respite from the city and allowed me to explore the architecture thoroughly.

Safdarjung's Tomb

Safdarjung's Tomb


Gandhi Smriti

Gandhi Smriti

Heading north through the suburbs of New Delhi, I arrived at the Gandhi Smriti, where Gandhi himself spent the last few days of his life before being assassinated in the garden. The house includes many artefacts from his life, including his famous glasses, and it was a really peaceful experience.

Gandhi's Glasses

Gandhi's Glasses


High Pressure Pipeline

High Pressure Pipeline

Continuing towards Rajpath, and the governmental buildings, it struck me just how nice these parts were. Luxurious houses (with their permanent security presence), and wide, plant filled pavements. Although the constant signs of "High Pressure Gas Pipelines" next to dodgy excavations did make me a little uneasy given the nature of my job back at home! Arriving at Rajpath I took a little walk around the government buildings before attempting to view the India Gate, which with the smog meant it was completely unseen.

Smog covering Rajpath

Smog covering Rajpath

With the India Day celebrations taking place in around a week's time, setting up the seating areas was already in full swing, and thus Rajpath itself was close, so a small diversion was made to actually get to the India Gate.

India Gate

India Gate


Humayun's Tomb

Humayun's Tomb

After arriving at another closed site, I decided to take the metro a little bit of the way to the next site - the Humayun Tomb. However getting to where the Metro was supposed to be, I was unable to find it, and so instead ended up walking the whole way.

Architecture inside the tombs

Architecture inside the tombs

Getting to the tomb, I found this was much more popular than the Safdarjung one earlier in the day, although it was still a nice place to explore. I then made my way south towards the Lotus Temple. This temple is shaped like a lotus, and after removing your shoes you are allowed in to make a prayer or just sit in silent thought.

Lotus Temple

Lotus Temple


Akshardham

Akshardham

My final destination for the day was to view the Akshardham tomb, although as actually visiting involved a lot of rigmarole regarding allowed items I figured I would just view it from the nearby metro station. Again this involved a race against time to view it before sunset, which was successful, just about through the thick smog. And I then made my way back towards McDonalds for tonight's dinner - not wanting to risk getting ill on local stuff, and having my handwash in tow.

Beautiful India

Beautiful India

Knowing there was one in Connaught Place, but being unable to find it, I ended up walking back from the central square via the station, going the completely wrong way! After eating and coming back to my hotel my legs were truly aching by now. I felt as though it must have been about a 10km walk today. I later found to my horror it was nearer 24 (15 miles!)

At least tomorrow's visit to the Taj Mahal was guided and would involve a lot less walking!

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in India Tagged temple fort tomb capital parliament shrine gate pollution indianexperience Comments (0)

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